Skip to main content

He should be dead right now. He’s got more urine than blood!


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
(2013)

The key to a scene-stealing supporting turn is often precisely that the movie isn’t all about that character. You’re left wanting more, but if you were to get it you’d likely find the character watered down to fit the mold of a traditional protagonist. It’s why Hannibal Lector is so effective in Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, but much less so in Hannibal. I doubt that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone would have worked if it had revolved around Jim Carrey’s David Blane-esque shock magician, but it would surely have been more inspired than what we get. The big problem with the film is that Steve Carrell’s Burt is both dislikeable and not even vaguely interesting.


Perhaps part of the problem is that Burt doesn’t give Carrell much comic mileage. He rarely has the chance to act-out and he’s unable to make Burt a prick to root for. The opening sequence, during which awful generic rock music adorns his and Anton Marvelton’s (Steve Buscemi) stage show, is impressively cheesy. But then quartet of writers choose to plough a furrow that seems tiresomely obvious. Childhood friends Burt and Anton now hate each other. Burt is predatory pig for and of course he has lost touch with made him want to perform in the first place; all magic has gone from his act. You can see Burt is set to plot a standard path to redemption, but it’s one he never earns.


It’s all very well to show him up as a complete tit when he attempts to perform his and Anton’s act solo, but the big finale in which he must impress us with his true craft proves unpersuasive. Likewise, we can’t get behind his coupling with browbeaten assistant Olivia Wilde because he’s such a jerk, and because there’s a complete absence of chemistry between the actors. There are occasional glimpses of a more energised, manic Carrell, and on these occasions the movie picks up; A case in point is when he and Anton are suspended above the ground in a plastic cage, an attempt to out derring-do rival act Steve Gray. Perhaps it’s just Carrell’s weak spot; he can play stupid, or naïve or benevolent, but when it comes to self-centredness he’s a bit lost. There needed to be more of his desperation (“He put a dog in my pants, Jane. He put a live dog in my pants. No one’s ever done that to me before”). His misanthropy fails to amuse and his sleaziness is plain tiresome.


Burt and Anton’s act is Siegfried and Roy by way of David Copperfield, who makes a cameo to show what a good sport he is.  Steve Buscemi fares much better than Carrell amid this Vegas campery, As an Adam Sandler regular, he knows what it is to slum it in feeble comedies, and he brings guilelessness to Anton that probably wasn’t there in the script. You can certainly see where feeble ideas like his Operation Presto are heading a mile off (“I bring magic, not food and water”).


If Burt never engages, the opposite is true of Gray. No matter how much we are told that he is a “terrible human being and a really bad magician” or “I know he sucks”, everything about Carrey’s performance says otherwise. He may be 10 years older than Carrell, but he’s still got it. Carrey is firing on all cylinders and this is his best comic character in years, a reminder of why he made it so big in the first place He’s a master of antic posturing and, unlike Carrell’s Burt, his arrogance is so zesty and gleeful that we can’t help but be pulled along for the ride with him.


Steve Gray, “Brain Rapist”, is the sort who will tear a card from his cheek and then stitches the flesh back together; he’s not so much a magician as a Jackass. He challenges himself to hold his urine for 12 days, sleeps on red-hot coals, burns “Happy Birthday” into his arm and trepans himself. Oh, and does unspeakable things to a puppy. Whenever he absents the screen it’s for too long. I can’t see that director Don Scardino intended for Carrey to steal the show so completely, but that’s what he does.


Alan Arkin has fun as the inspiration for Burt (looking remarkably like Harvey Keitel when he is “youthed-up”, although James Gandolfini’s billionaire hotel owner is underwritten (it’s amusing to hear that he suggested his son have Miley Cyrus, Justin Beiber or Mandy Patinkin perform at his birthday; they missed out not getting Patinkin to cameo).


Whenever Carrey’s onscreen the movie bursts with anarchic brio, making the Carrell sequences even more turgid in comparison. Carrey’s never really gone away, but his lust for mega-hits seems to have dampened of late. It’s just as well since both this and Kick-Ass 2 have been misfires. As the guest star he’s the winner in both cases, though; he can’t get the blame for them bombing and the praise for him as been almost universal. Carrell meanwhile has always mixed studio and indie fare, and since he’s never been a sure thing at the box office he may not be too concerned at Burt’s fizzle.  And there’s always Despicable Me 3 to look forward to.

**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

A drunken, sodden, pill-popping cat lady.

The Woman in the Window (2021) (SPOILERS) Disney clearly felt The Woman in the Window was so dumpster-bound that they let Netflix snatch it up… where it doesn’t scrub up too badly compared to their standard fare. It seems Tony Gilroy – who must really be making himself unpopular in the filmmaking fraternity, as producers’ favourite fix-it guy - was brought in to write reshoots after Joe Wright’s initial cut went down like a bag of cold, or confused, sick in test screenings. It’s questionable how much he changed, unless Tracy Letts’ adaptation of AJ Finn’s 2018 novel diverged significantly from the source material. Because, as these things go, the final movie sticks fairly closely to the novel’s plot.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

Maybe back in the days of the pioneers a man could go his own way, but today you got to play ball.

From Here to Eternity (1953) (SPOILERS) Which is more famous, Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr making out in the surf in From Here to Eternity or Airplane! spoofing the same? It’s an iconic scene – both of them – in a Best Picture Oscar winner – only one of them – stuffed to the rafters with iconic actors. But Academy acclaim is no guarantee of quality. Just ask A Beautiful Mind . From Here to Eternity is both frustrating and fascinating for what it can and cannot do per the restrictive codes of the 1950s, creaky at times but never less than compelling. There are many movies of its era that have aged better, but it still carries a charge for being as forthright as it can be. And then there’s the subtext leaking from its every pore.

To our glorious defeat.

The Mouse that Roared (1959) (SPOILERS) I’d quite forgotten Peter Sellers essayed multiple roles in a movie satirising the nuclear option prior to Dr. Strangelove . Possibly because, while its premise is memorable, The Mouse that Roared isn’t, very. I was never that impressed, much preferring the sequel that landed (or took off) four years later – sans Sellers – and this revisit confirms that take. The movie appears to pride itself on faux- Passport to Pimlico Ealing eccentricity, but forgets to bring the requisite laughs with that, or the indelible characters. It isn’t objectionable, just faintly dull.